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US government rules iPhone jailbreaking legal

Apple's grip loosened as hacking security checks on mobile devices deemed OK

The US copyright office has modified the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow the bypassing of security measures on various electronic devices – including mobile handsets such as the Apple iPhone.

This effectively means that iPhones and iPads may be legally 'jailbroken', thus enabling the installation of games and programs that Apple has not sanctioned or has actively banned from the App Store.

This is despite the hardware company's previous attempt to claim jailbreaking violates its copyrights.

Similarly, Android devices may now be 'rooted'. The amendment also permits the software modification of "video games accessible on personal computers and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully obtained works."

However, such circumventions are only permitted under specific circumstances. The installation of illegally obtained – i.e. pirated – software remains a no-go, so the exemption solely applies to lawfully-obtained applications that cannot otherwise be installed to a device.

Additionally, the purpose of any bypass should be "primarily to promote the security of the owner or operator of a computer, computer system, or computer network."

In other words, to test for security flaws or vulnerabilities. However, mobile devices carry an additional permission: "enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset."

The extent to which a jailbreak would need to prove either security or interoperability was their purpose in the unlikely event they went to court is unknown for now, as are the repercussions of developers hacking Apple devices to test their as-yet unauthorised applications.

However, it will likely prove a blow to a company that has fought hard to retain tight control of software installations on its portable gadgets.

While jailbreaking is now permitted under certain circumstances, it will still void the warranty of a device.

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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